(Back to Part 2)
In the course of creating a largescale employment project, dissonance will often arise. Disagreement ensues. A scheme may be abandoned. But history shows numerous examples where dissonance has been the occasion, not for abandoning a scheme, but for creating a paradigmatic breakthrough.
Given the dissonance that can be expected in our future, as readers of this site are well aware, the need for mechanisms to bridge dissonance should be clear to us. If we are looking for new paradigmatic breakthroughs, we must find new ways of addressing existing cognitive dissonance.
I cannot think of a field of social endeavor to illustrate this principle. In the course of my studies, I’ve only come across the principle in the resolution of personal dissonance but I wager that the same principle can be applied to largescale projects as well.
Most paradigmatic breakthroughs I’m aware of have occurred as a result of the personal resolution of dissonance. For instance, Max Weber created a distinction considered fundamental to the field of sociology out of resolving an ongoing family dispute. His father, a rabbi, disputed Weber’s sociological arguments with “unprovable” religious arguments. These Weber labelled ‘values.’ His own “provable” assertions he considered ‘facts’. By bridging the two, and contextualizing them within sociology, he created a division between values and facts that remains a basic distinction in the sociologist’s toolbox.
Another example: Martin Heidegger discovered always-already-available ways of being out of not being able to find answers to his ontological questions from any of the accepted authorities of his day (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle). Failing in his search for answers, he turned to observing the workings of his own mind and discovered his prior assumptions and predilections. As well as finding the answers he wanted, he discovered an important inherent patterning mechanism in thought.
A third example: Benjamin Lee Whorf, before becoming an anthropologist, was a fire insurance investigator. He found that fires occurred because linguistic labels led people to misunderstand a situation and take dangerous actions.
A worker would see an “empty” oil drum and drop a lit match into it, overlooking that it was “full” of flammable vapors. An office worker would throw a coat over a cone heater and turn on the “light” switch, not knowing that the switch activated the cone heater. When the light didn’t go on, after the worker toggled it several times, he would assume that the “light” didn’t work, leaving the cone heater blazing underneath his coat. In the course of resolving these linguistic miscomprehensions, Whorf stumbled upon what has become known as the principle of linguistic relativity – that things will be for us as we see and describe them.
Finally, Thomas Kuhn, working as a historian of science at a junior college, found the writers of outdated history texts touting their own age as the pinnacle of science, even though the age that succeeded it often thoroughly discredited it. Puzzled at how all eras could regard themselves as the height of attainment, though the science of some eras went nowhere, he arrived at the notion of temporocentrism – that people self-servingly tend to represent their own as the best of all possible eras.
I realize that these examples don’t shed light on largescale enterprises, but wish only the principle beneath them to be considered.
By offering solutions that bridge cognitive dissonance, instead of abandoning fruitful schemes, we can create paradigmatic breakthroughs. Therefore, dissonance in our personal lives (or in our social projects) should be seen not as a stumbling block, not as an occasion for choosing one side of the dissonance against the other, but as an occasion to recontextualize and bridge the dissonance. We might therefore welcome paradox, confusion, double binds, dualisms, and the clash of opposites when they arise in the course of our social alignments and common endeavors.
(6) Critics Identify Their Own Expertise
Any genuinely new activity cannot be fully planned in advance. The answers to many of its problems are found in the course of accomplishing the project itself.
In this discussion, I am barring the pusillanimous and anticipating sincerity. Some project planners see even their sincere critics as detractors and exclude them or try to answer them. A more constructive response would be to see them as potential contributors, speaking from their own areas of expertise and sometimes identifying important actions that need to be taken. The former group excludes critics. The latter group enlists them and reassigns them to bring their expertise to bear towards the solution of the problems they point to.
In the example of sending people to the moon, those who say that such-and-such a material won’t work probably are indicating knowledge of materials that will.
This principle reminds us to turn the negative to our advantage and harness the energy of those who can foresee the problems that stand in our way.
These are just some initial thoughts on the construction of largescale employment projects that might put our people back to work, create new society-wide projects that all can participate in, or address areas of the world’s unworkability.
I have in mind not some pharaoh’s use of slaves to build a monument and not some manipulation of the masses to serve a reigning social class. I have in mind ennobling cooperative endeavors in which all people of the world participate for the benefit of the whole of the planet.
Whether or not need and want continue, we shall have occasion in the future to address society-wide projects. I mean this discussion to begin our common discussion.
The most obvious areas of the world’s unworkability are those of famine, drought, poverty, homelessness, inequity, disease, and old age. Before anything else happens for our planetary society, I believe that we’ll need to apply ourselves to end these unworkable planetary conditions.
We can do this by creating global value alignments to mobilize the population, win/win approaches that leave no one out of the solution, targettable deadlines that allow a project-wide coordination of efforts, bridging any stumbling blocks that arise, and enlisting our critics in the overall success of the operation.
I very well may have left many things out of consideration. If you see any, I welcome your contribution. This essay was not intended to end discussion, but to begin it.